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Brain May Flush Out Toxins During Sleep

Update Date: Oct 18, 2013 05:29 AM EDT

One reason for going to sleep might be to clean our brains, US scientists say.

When we sleep, the space between brain cells increase during sleep which allows the brain to flush out toxins. Researchers performed their test on mice and confirmed the results.

“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York in a press release.

Previously reasons behind falling asleep were unclear. Only recently scientists have shown that sleep is essential for storing memories.

Initially researchers studied the function by injecting dye into the CSF of mice. They watched it flow through their brains and beside they also monitored electrical brain activity of the mice.

“We were surprised by how little flow there was into the brain when the mice were awake,” said Dr. Nedergaard. “It suggested that the space between brain cells changed greatly between conscious and unconscious states.”

The idea was tested by injecting the electrodes into the brains directly and measured the actual space between brain cells. It came into observation that the space inside the brains increased by 60 percent when when mice were asleep or even anesthetized.

“It’s not surprising, our whole physiology is changing during sleep,” said Dr Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer, a lecturer in sleep at Surrey University, according to BBC.

“The novelty is the role of the interstitial space, but I think it’s an added piece of the puzzle not the whole mechanism. The significance is that, yet again, it shows sleep may contribute to the restoration of brain cell function and may have protective effects,” he added.

The findings of the study, that are published in Science, opens up a new horizon for sleep in health and diseases.

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